Sunday, 29 March 2015

Inspired by Others

One of these days, I might actually play in orchestra concert while in one piece. Last year, I was drafted in to the spring Solway Sinfonia concert quite late due to a lack of available bassoonists - but unfortunately Seville happened just before the concert, and so i struggled a bit due to my ribs and face being sore when I tried to play.

This year, I agreed to play several weeks earlier, and really quite enjoyed the Sunday reheursals (not training for a Spring marathon meant that I wasn't having to go for long Sunday runs!). However, as luck would have it (or rather my clumsiness), my latest accident happened just over a week before the concert. It took several days for the swelling to decrease enough for me to move my fingers at all, so I was very doubtful about actually playing, but I didn't want to let anyone down. Evenings were spent trying to wiggle my fingers more and more (thank heaven for painkillers), and by the weekend I was able to drive almost normally again (it was my gear changing/handbrake hand that I'd injured).

Concert programme
I managed the drive out to Gatehouse and just about got through the afternoon reheursal. A few painkillers later and the concert seemed manageable (though I did develop a rather sore back trying to support the full weight of my bassoon in my right hand to take the strain off my left!!). It was a great concert, as we played works old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, including two first performances – ‘The Tempest’ Overture, by Geraldine Mucha, and Love Song of a Lonely Man, by Geoff Keating (our conductor). The soloists were brilliant (and I loved hearing a piece written for the contrabassoon), and my sore hand was rather put into perspective over dinner in the pub, as I sat and chatted to one of the horn players.....he'd driven 3 hours from his home to play with the orchestra, and had a broken foot into the bargain!!

I had also been asked to give a presentation on my running year (ie last year) at the Annandale & Eskdale Annual Sports Awards due to my involvement in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games. I initially thought that I would just be saying a few words to a small number of people, but I should have been alerted by the fact that I was asked for slides of my photos. On Friday (the day of the Awards) there was an advertisement in the local paper - and it mentioned my presentation alongside a photograph of me - so the nerves started to creep in. On arriving at the venue, there was a huge roomful of people, and I really didn't think they'd want to hear anything I had to say. 

There was a great mix of professionals, volunteers, coaches, clubs, schools, officials and sponsors at the event and so it was an ideal opportunity to raise the profile of all sport in the area. There was a huge number of nominations for the different awards - and it was inspirational for me to see the enormous talent and effort that exists through all age groups and abilities/disabilites. I was even more worried about what people would think of me giving a presentation as a relative newcomer to sport (at any level) - and I really wished that I'd started when I was the age of some of the younger award nominees! 

Still, it seemed to go well, as I was sent some lovely feedback by both organisers and attendees alike....and what's more, the presented me with a lovely personalised bottle....just for talking about myself!!!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Run Too Far???

It does make me smile to think that, having said that I wanted to get away from racing and chasing times, and just enjoy my running, I've actually run 3 races in as many weeks. Well, 4 actually, if you include the marathon!!! It wasn't planned like that, but things sometimes change at short notice.

The XC social chat
The Saturday after Seville was the date chosen for our club's cross-country championships. I didn't really think that I would have recovered sufficiently to race it, so I was going to go along and help marshal, as it was a new event purely for club members. I felt really lethargic jogging down there, so thought I'd made the right decision, but on arrival, I was convinced to take part - in part to show some of the other ladies the route for the first couple of corners, but also to boost numbers. I thought my legs might give up partway round, so although I started out fairly strongly, I decided that nobody would question a dignified retiral when I was overtaken. As it happened, it wasn't anyone else's day that day either, so I finished the first lap in the lead, which I somehow managed to extend over the next lap (which meant that I got back first for the homemade coffee and cakes!!). It may not have been the plan when I left home, but it was nice to be the first finisher on that course (the men raced after the ladies), and to hang out with the girls afterwards cheering the men on!

I was in London the next weekend - a lucky coincidence for me that a friend was getting married on the Saturday, and my cousin's daughter was being christened on the Sunday. In between times, I made the most of my brief sojourn south by catching up with Emily, one of my Doha 100K teammates for a Sunday morning run. As it turned out, the run we were going to do was her club's 10mile championships, but luckily no-one would know/recognise me, so I wasn't worried about only having had 4 hours sleep post-wedding before jumping on the train across London.

As it turned out, it was also the British Masters' 10 Mile Championships so I also saw 
Team GB subdivision Sidcup
Walter (our GB 100K team manager) in his British Masters' capacity, as he gave me a lovely "35" to pin to my back. The route was an undulating 3+laps, so I used the first lap to settle in (as usual, some people set off rather fast and so it took a while to reel them in and work my way up the field). Roads were not closed for the event so we ran on pavements for most of the time (well up and down kerbs and into the road when necessary round cars, bollards, gas/electricity meters, bins etc) but that just added to the interest. I had company for the first lap (mainly a group of men from Emily's club Dulwich), but by the next lap the field had become more strung out, and by the end of it, we were actually starting to lap people. I hadn't realised that there was a decent breeze until I was running alone, but I could certainly feel the heat (over 10 degrees warmer than it was in Scotland!!). It was inspiring to pass runners with "70" and "80" pinned to their vests - I just hope that I'm still able to get out and run when I'm in that age group. Having moved into the lead after 2 miles, I was happy to maintain that position right to the end, which meant that I could watch Emily's brilliant finish, where she caught another girl in a sprint for the line!!

Sidcup 10 and Masters medals

Last weekend was quite a sociable weekend, as I started off by visiting a friend from my GP training days, his wife and their wee one on the Friday night (fantastic to have a proper catch up with them, as I'd last "seen" them waving a banner at me on the streets of Glasgow as I ran past!!). I was then going over to catch up with some other friends in the Yorkshire Dales on the Saturday night - and in between (well, it would have been rude not to, as it was almost directly en route) I ran the first race of my club's Grand Prix.
Dentdale is an unusual road race in that it covers 14.2 very hilly miles. I last ran it 4 years ago (when unfortunately I developed post tib tendonitis and so, although I managed to cross the Finish Line, I then could only hop for the rest of the weekend, and had to take 4 weeks off from running) and had forgotten just how steep the hills where, until I found myself driving along some of the race route into the village of Dent to registration. It was rather a cold day (with snow on the surrounding hills), but stripping down to stand arouind shivering in club vest and shorts does help to get you into a race midset. I did wear some old gloves, as I was planning to discard them as I warmed up, but was in fact still wearing them as I finished the race!
As soon as we started, I saw Alan (one of my clubmates) disappearing off down the road, but I knew he was in good shape (he ran a 5:35 second mile) so it didn't even cross my mind to try to stick with him. Instead, I tried to keep tabs on a very slim lady from a fell running club, who also set off like a bat out of hell. I gradually reeled her back in over the first couple of miles, along with some other fast starting "youngsters" and settled into my run.
Dentdale (invisible) glass trophies
I was so relieved to pass the point where my ankle had started to hurt in 2011, that I almost missed my shoelace becoming undone. The problem with all the hills and twists/turns of the narrow road (a typical scenic Yorkshire Dales road) is that I wasn't sure whether I had much of a gap on the other lady, and so didn't dare stop to retie my lace. A mental compromise was to decide to stop if I felt any sense of impending fall (as I know how clumsy I can be) but somehow the miles just ticked along without incident. The stiff headwind became a welcome tailwind as we turned at the head of the valley, so it felt like it was actually going to be a pleasant final 4 miles. Unfortunately, those 4 miles contained rather a lot of steep hills (though there were llamas in a field to distract you from the effort) - some of which had a photographer nicely situated at the top!! I managed my usual unplanned technique of closing up gaps on the uphills but seeing people run away on the downhills so actually spent most of the run alone in no-man's land. The final turn suddenly sees you crossing cobbles and running round the village green, but you know there will be a hot shower and cream tea (or two) waiting for you, so the thought of this spurred me to keep going so I actually finished only 1 position behind Alan!

After a lovely evening in a cosy Dales pub, we headed out the next morning for a long run-walk in the hills. An overcast night had made the air temperature feel warmer as we set out, but we soon encountered a mixture of snow and ice on the tops, so spotting a van serving hot tea at a random road junction was a huge bonus! I was quite tired from the race the day before and so, although I'd managed a good 6 miles of race with an undone shoelace, I failed to lift my foot up high enough to clear a rock while looking at the view in the early afternoon. It became one of those comedy slow motion falls that feels like it lasts for minutes as you pitch forward with arms flailing. There didn't seem to be any way of saving myself faceplanting on the rocky path in front of me, so instinct made me put out my left hand. It felt like I had bent my wrist backwards as the pain was so sharp, but there was little to do but get up and carry on down the hill, as we were still about 3 miles from our cars. I thought that it was probably just shock but the pain moved from my wrist to my fingers and they felt cold, numb and swollen. I refused to look at them as I knew that whatever I'd done, I just wanted to get back to my car. After a couple of miles, my fingers seemed to warm up and the pain ebbed, but then, as I put my hand out to open a gate it shot back through my hand and I nearly screamed. By the time we got back to the pub carpark, I couldn't move the fingers at all. It was an interesting drive home as I was trying to elevate my hand to minimise the swelling, but I still had to work out a way to change gears. It was clear by the time I got back to Dumfries that Calamity Jo had struck again, and I had to go home via A&E who xrayed, cleaned and dressed it! I thought that it was a clear sign to me to avoid hills big time, but it might actually have just been a sign that I'd done a run too far and should have been at home on the sofa watching the TV (I'm certainly doing that now!!).

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Facing the Demons

All the dramas of last year's start at the Seville Marathon have really had an impact on my psyche. I've been too scared of another trampling to enter another big race with a mass start (hence my withdrawal from Comrades and my hiding away at the side on the barriers in the Glasgow half). The Seville race organisers knew this and so kindly invited me back to try to slay my demons.

A photoshoot at the expo....
As previously described, I had somewhat lost my mojo after a great 2014, so combining that with poor weather (the roads were thick ice/snow for a good 2 weeks and the track was shut for 5 weeks), a very short training window, and some health issues, I wasn't going to be going there aiming to run a good time. The goal was just to get through the mayhem of the start and get round in 1 piece rather than 3 this year, though I would've been upset with myself if I didn't have a good solid run (and it wouldn't have seemed fair on those who had invited me back if I'd just had an easy run round the course).

Enjoying the Seville oranges....
The lead up to the race was slightly crazy as I wasn't even sure that I was going to be able to go until the Wednesday night, but luckily I got the all clear from the cardiologist that evening. In 2014, I had been there on my own when all the dramas occurred, and so this year I invited my mother to come with me. Who wouldn't want a weekend of sun and sightseeing in Spain when it's cold in the uk? And a weekend of my company too......just kidding! It was lovely to spend some time just wandering around Seville with her, checking out tourist spots, watching parades, visiting cafes and ice cream shops, seeing parts of the route (including the tramlines in town, the horsemuck from the tourist carts, the tiles of Plaza EspaƱa and the raised studs marking cycle lanes) and obviously Seville orange trees.

Churros and chocolate!!
I was delighted to see the weather the day before the race - cold and wet - as all the other runners in the Elite start come from warm, sunny countries (well, there was a Swedish lady, Louise, but she'd just spent a couple of months training at altitude in the South African summer), but unfortunately by the time the lunchtime technical meeting came about,  it was sunny and warm again. Judging by the meeting, it looked like here would be quite an exciting race going on (obviously way ahead of me up the road), as the pacers for the lead men were going off at well under CR schedule (ie 2:07:30 pace). The women's field was rather stacked also - there was an official pacemaker for 2:26-2:28, and then several ladies had brough their own private pacemakers - aiming for 2:31, 2:32, 2:34, and 2:38 (that was Louise). I hoped that I wouldn't have too lonely a run on the day as there didn't seem to be anyone else there of my standard. Still - I guess none of them went out and met their mother for churros, chocolate and ice cream that afternoon either (I like to call it "carb-loading Sevilliano-style"!).

Race day started better this year, as I actually managed to get the right bus to the start so there was no wandering around lost in the dark, and I had time to sit quietly in the Elite enclosure eating my jam sandwiches (thanks to a photographer for capturing that), queue for the solo portaloo, check out the site of last year's carnage (a nice smooth section of road.....lovely....but I definitely didn't want to see it again from any closer up!), try to calm my thoughts, and actually warm up.

I cannot remember much about the 2014 start, but I'd spotted myself in the centre of the road in some photos, so this time I made sure that I was right at the edge, almost completely tucked in behind the start gantry. It seemed to me that they were never going to get the race under way, but then I did know that I was going to expend most of my energy with startline nerves. Several guys tried to be "kind" and urged me to start ahead if them, but I tried to politely refuse and kept hanging onto the gantry as if my life depended on it (well it felt like it did!), despite some marshals trying to push the gantry in to actually narrow the funnel.

My favourite bit of road - not!
All of a sudden we were off......and even though I was right at the edge and headed as wide as I could immediately, I still felt some hands on my back and shoulder pushing me on. I really fail to understand this - everyone has to run at least 26.2 miles, so why the urge to push, shove and sprint those first few yards. Fear really kicked in, and so I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't as gentle as I could have been as I semi-turned and slapped those hands away.....but it seemed to work as I suddenly realised that I'd covered the first 100yards and was still on my feet and running! Happy Days!
I then had a sudden realisation.....I'd managed to run the gauntlet of the start and make it out alive.....but now I actually had a marathon to run. I'd been so focused on the first few yards rather than the race as a whole, that I hadn't switched my watch on, but somehow I managed to do so as I was running along. I wasn't sure what pace I was running so looked around as I got to the first km marker. I could see Louise and her coach/pacer not too far ahead of me, and an couple of the low 2:30s ladies and their pacers were still in sight. One thing that did really confuse me was that the official 2:45 pacer (with his huge balloon) was a considerable distance up the road ahead of us all. Weird! However, I just decided to ignore all of that and settle into a pace that seemed comfortably uncomfortable.
The next few miles ticked along nicely and I'd crossed the 5K mark (and passed my mum at 6K) almosty before I knew it. There was a small group of men just up ahead of me, so I decided to close the gap and stick with them to 10K. At the 10K mark, I made it my goal to try to keep with that group (more or less) until the 20K mark. This seemed like a good idea in principle, but I actually became quite frustrated with them. Initially it started out with 1 guy being paced by 2 others, but then other men (I presume friends/running mates) would jump in off the sidelines and certain corners to help with his race - they weren't wearing numbers, and so were not officially part of the marathon, but still felt it was OK to cut across in front of me and almost trip me/block my way on occasion. I gave myself a talking to, and decided it was better to just put up with this in order to avoid running alone in no man's land.

The tiles of Plaza Espana
By 20K, the "paced man" had begun to struggle a bit and so they'd dropped back, while I found myself only about 50m another decent-sized group led by Lousie's pacer (with her tucked in right behind him). I was breaking the run up into smaller chunks in my mind, so from the halfway mark to 30k, the target was to keep Louise in eyesight (I knew that if she was going to run her planned 2:38, I wouldn't be able to keep up with her pace, but trying to avoid her disappearing before 30K seemed reasomnable as there were some long straight stretches). I hadn't liked closing up on the back of the group as there was still some jostling and cutting in going on, so I was happy to just run by myself slightly further back. I couldn't see her, when her pacer stopped at 31K, but I was definitely starting to feel the lack of big marathon buildup by this point. There is a 2K straight stretch of road that I remembered as being rather hot and sunny in 2014, and 2015 was exactly the same. The turn off from that road into a cooler tree-lined park was such a relief, and I also knew that my mum was going to be just round the corner cheering me on (I believe she thought my grin aimed at her was more of a grimace at that point!).
In a slight change to the previous year's route, we ran further on the park trails, which was lovely, but all too soon, it was back out into the sun to make a tight circuit round the tiles of Plaza Espana. My mum had dashed across to the park exit to see me on way for the last few miles before she went for a well-earned lunch to line her stomach before partaking in the post-race beers I'd suggested!
Course hazards in town
The next few miles wound through the old part of town, so there was a lot of crowd support, which could help fading runners. I say "could help" as I'm never convinced that it's nice to have people see my poor form when I tired at the end of a race. It was also important to stay alert and pick your feet as you had to avoid the horsemuck, the raised cyclelane markers, uneven flagstones and cobbles, and cross the tramlines on many occasions. As the buildings closed in on either side, the temperature did drop again which was nice, but then I had a slight problem when I caught up to one of the wheelchair athletes. He had a cyclist accompanying him, and together that filled the entire race route and so I could not get by on either side until it widened out again.
Luckily the widening coincided with a rise for a bridge over the river so I could move away from them, and I knew that when I got to the other side, I only had 2km to run!
What a long 2km it seemed, especially as you wind around with the stadium in sight but don't seem to enter it for ages. Thinking back, it was actually a lot better in 2015 as the added portion in the park, meant that some of the winding round on hot sunny roads with the stadium in sight had been removed. I did make a "school boy" error with just over a mile to go - which makes me laugh when I think about it now (but not at the time). There was an aidstation with marshals handing out cups. I'd not been the best at getting much water from these cups to my mouth at previous stations so this time I thought that the most benefit would be gained by pouring it over my head. I headed to a guy that I thought was shouting "Agua" and poured the cup of clear fluid over my hair and then realised, as it dripped down my face, that I'd actually picked up a cup of the clear isotonic drink which is called something that sounds very similar to "Agua" - yukkkk!!!

What other finish pose could I adopt?!!
Finally, I rounded the last turn and could see those ahead entering the stadium. This is a cheeky bit of the course as it's quite a steep downhill slope under the stands, and the contrast from bright sunlight to the darkness under the building makes many people stumble. It would've been just my luck to fall and break myself here, but luckily I was soon through and into my last 200m round the track.

I could see Louise just up ahead of me and so, although I knew that she must have faded a bit (as there was no way I was running near to a 2:38 marathon), I realised that I'd also produced as good a run as I could have done on the day. I was so happy to duck under the finish before the clock turned to 2:41, and nearly ran into one of the press officers asking me how it had gone this year. All I could do was point to my (still intact) nose and smile......demons well and truly faced!!!
Wes joins the sub 2:45 club!
An added bonus to not being carted straight off to the medics was that I could stay around the finish area and cheer friends in, one of whom achieved his target of nipping under the 2:45 barrier, while another had completed his first ever marathon....and I much preferred sitting in the sunshine in town with a cold drink (or two) than spending the afternoon alone in a foreign hospital!!!